We took a punt and booked online. Unfortunately our first choice boat based on Tripadvisor was fully booked and we ended up on the 3-star Golden Lotus Classic cruise. I think this is an overly generous rating – it was a 2-star at most IMO – and I’m not that fussy.
Cost was $US220 including door to door transfers from Hanoi for two people inclusive of meals.
Summary of the itinerary as follows –
- Pickup from the hotel was late – they had estimated 7.45-8.15 but it was well after 8.30am and we still had to pick up more passengers. The hotel actually called and confirmed they were running late.
- 30 minute bathroom break stop at a handicraft store – snacks were also available
- Finally arrived at the dock around 12.45pm
- Boarding around 1pm
- Lunch 1.30
- Cruising until 3pm when tendered to caves (amazing)
- Then to an overcrowded beach with disgusting bathroom facilities (see below) or the option to walk up hundreds of steps to a 360 view. Deck chairs 30k rental (about $2) – stopped here for 1 hour which was about 60 minutes too long IMO.
- Return to boat 6pm
- Time to shower and then cooking class at 7pm (we skipped it)
- Dinner 7.30pm
- Squid fishing after dinner (no way we were doing that)
- Rest of the Evening to yourself
- Sunrise at stupid o’clock
- Taichi at 6.30am (no thanks)
- Breakfast at 7am as you head towards Pearl Farm
- Before 8am arrive to a pearl farm
- tour of pearl farm and shop
- Arrive back before 9am for 9.30am pack up and check out of cabin
- Lunch onboard at 10.30 before returning to the dock for transfer back to Hanoi
- Arrive back at the dock around 11.30am
- Sat on the boat at the dock for about 30 minutes before being tendered to the dock
- Sat and waited 30 mins or so for the bus incoming from Hanoi
- On the road back to Hanoi by 12.45pm
- 30 minute stop at a handicraft store with bathrooms and snacks available
- Arrived to the hotel at 5pm
So a bit more about the experience…
Drinks were not included in the cost of the cruise and in fact they wanted 10,000 (around 65 cents) for any drinks carried onboard. To be fair, they did provide a small 300ml bottle of water on the shuttle from Hanoi and another in the room. Tea and coffee at breakfast was included .
We had water purification tablets with us since we try to minimise plastic usage and simply used the tap water and purified it – it tasted fine.
The ship itself had about 18-20 passengers onboard. There were around 12-16 twin cabins split over two decks. Cabins were very small but clean. There was aircon and hot water – we had issue with our hot water but it got resolved quickly. They did ask us all to confirm both were working and to let them know if it wasn’t. I get the impression that it is a common complaint. We didn’t actually need the aircon, it wasn’t that hot.
The top “sun deck” had some very hard wooden loungers on it. It would have been nice to sit up here if it were more comfortable and time allowed. However there was little time to relax.
In terms of dining, vegetarians were catered for – lots of food but nothing exciting, fairly bland and not especially Vietnamese – more like my 70+ mother cooking Vietnamese vegetarian food without a recipe … or the right ingredients.
Getting off and on the boat or tender could be extremely challenging at times for those with mobility issues, poor vision or otherwise unsure on their feet – it would be impossible for anyone in a wheelchair or similar.
The rubbish in the bay was very off-putting for me. The water is littered with plastic bottles and bags. Tourism is much to blame for this but the local people also need to see the trash and do something to resolve it.
Also the sheer number of boats in the area. If you are expecting solitude in a pristine wilderness – this is not it – there are hundreds of boats and at each stop, including the overnight, its in a shared location.
The beach where we stopped was completely packed and the toilets were disgusting! Two of the women’s ones didn’t even have doors and there were only 3 stalls. No toilet paper either. I decided to wait…
There was an english speaking guide available at all times and he essentially gave us the timing and some brief information at each location.
Life jackets on the tender to/from the boat and to all off-board excursions were mandatory.
Tips were requested via envelope left for the staff on the breakfast table. This was not mentioned at any point – so there was no pressure to leave a tip at all.
It’s around 4 hours each way from Hanoi to Halong Bay. We were one of the last pickups and first drops off on the transfer so could be up to 5 hours if you were first on and last off.
Except for our airfares, this was by far the most expensive single item on our itinerary and with the time to get to/from Halong Bay, the rubbish in the bay, the mediocre food and the cost, I’m not sure I’d do it again.
I’ll share some photos in an upcoming post once I organise my photos.